Tipping The Sky Blue Bucket

One of Dad’s favourite instructional parables was about the cow that filled the bucket to the brim, only to knock it over with its hind hoof at the end of the milking. That’s how it felt for Sydney’s fans, lifted to great heights last Wednesday night only to be dropped with a thud just three days later.

The visitors went into Saturday night’s match, for the second time in a week, with a positive, attacking mindset. The team’s formation reflected it with a tweaked 3-5-2, betraying an attacking intent in a game they needed to win to ensure a spot in the Top 6 by the end of the round.

Missing five starters – three defenders and two attackers - the Sky Blues took the game to Melbourne City from the outset, attacking in waves and playing some spectacular football. What cost Sydney FC on the night was its defensive inexperience courtesy of a reshuffled backline and, as ever this season, a lack of cutting edge up front.

Wide man Andrew Hoole had Ben Garuccio in knots while on the other flank, Ali Abbas got into some great positions. The Iraqi’s crossing was a feature, though he should have done better with at least one of his shots on goal in the first half.

Sydney mounting raid after raid, but City coach John van’t Schip, aware of the visitors’ suspension-induced defensive frailties, had his side play long balls on transition to Bruno Fornaroli in the hope of isolating him against an inexperienced Sydney defender on the counter.

The tactic worked, City profiting from some good fortune and naïve defending by Abbas and Aaron Calver. Fornaroli controlled a long ball, Calver and Abbas' defending was inept. Aaron Mooy’s harmless-looking cross deflected into the path of the Uruguayan marksman off Calver’s back and Fornaroli’s finish was of the highest order, City going a goal to the good against the run of play.

Sydney continued to carve out half-chances after the break but in the 70th minute, Novillo cut inside Hoole before playing an excellent through ball to Fornaroli. Matthew Jurman went to ground – unnecessarily – allowing the attacker to turn and smash the ball past Vedran Janjetovic. And the goal that gave the Uruguayan his much-deserved hatrick was straight out of Comedy Central, Fornaroli profiting from statuesque Calver defending and Jurman’s air-swung clearance to seal City’s victory.

Milos Dimitrijevic was outstanding, Holosko, Simon and Hoole tried hard and Zac Anderson showed that he could be a worthy partner to Matthew Jurman in coming weeks.

Sydney’s A-League season did not fall apart in their 3-0 loss to Melbourne City on Saturday night.

That has been weeks and months in the making.

It came in preseason, when Sydney FC failed to re-sign or replace sixteen-goal Marc Janko, hoping that quantity in the shape of Matt Simon, Shane Smeltz and George Blackwood replaces quality.

It came when new marquee Filip Holosko proved not only an inadequate compensation for Janko but, at times, even for the departed Bernie Ibini.

It came when Sydney’s attack showed that it was often incapable of hitting a bovine derriere with a string instrument.

It came when the job of leading Sydney’s backline fell to an error-prone import with concentration problems.

It came when experienced Sydney defenders gave away needless fouls week after week, leading to a yellow card accumulation that forced Arnie into fielding a reshuffled backline on Saturday night.

And it came with a massive, weekly tactical overhaul – to the point where one struggles to identify Sydney’s playing style or identity as the side adjusted to its opponent, chameleon-like, on a weekly basis, instead of forcing the opposition to adjust to them.

Bamboozle the team with multiple positional changes, intricate attacking patterns and weekly tactical reconstructions and, not being robots, players will begin to make mistakes, second-guess themselves and lose confidence.

With the ball, meanwhile, it is apparent that Sydney’s intricate, over-complicated football with a floating attack does not produce enough goals, while their slow build-up allows the opposition time to put up the shutters and negate Sydney's pace on the counter.   

Half-time discussion centred not only on Sydney FC’s positive, attacking football but on the controversy that came seconds before Melbourne’s opening goal. Holosko pounced on a loose ball deep in opposition half and many have argued that Patrick Kisnorbo, outpaced, should have received a red card for cynically rugby-tackling the Slovakian. However, the presence of Alex Wilkinson, who had got back just in time, ensures that Kisnorbo was not the “last man” and, under FIFA rules, yellow card was the correct call by Jarred Gillett.

Jacques Faty’s cringe-inducing tweet that he would have received a red for the same offence demonstrates that he fails to spot the difference between a rugby tackle 35 metres from goal with Wilkinson at the edge of the penalty area and his own pulling back of Besart Berisha just 10 metres away from Janjetovic a week earlier, with not another Sydney defender in sight. Just another reason to send the Frenchman on his way at the end of the season.

The Sky Blues drop out of the Top 6 following Perth Glory’s 2-0 defeat of the Newcastle Jets on Monday night. When it rains, it pours and skipper Alex Brosque may have played his last game for the club, out for the season with another hamstring injury.

Despite their travails, however, Sydney must not give up on the A-League.

Next week’s home game against Wellington Phoenix is winnable, more so with Grant, Ryall and Carney certain to slot back in after serving their week’s suspension. The following week, the Sky Blues should come away from Gosford with full points. The Roar and Adelaide games will be tough but if the Sydney come through these relatively unscathed, it could set up a 6th spot decider – at home on April 10th against Perth – in the final game of the regular season.

That the club is in this position is unacceptable but they must work doubly hard to squeeze some much-needed milk back into that bucket.

Anything else is an affront to the fans.

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